Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, causing one in four deaths each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coronary heart disease is the most common type. It costs the U.S. nearly $109 billion annually.
But one of the best weapons against heart disease, says Dr. Gerald Fletcher, a spokesman for the American Heart Association, is knowledge—understanding how healthy lifestyle choices can protect your heart.
“People need to know about all the heart disease that can be prevented if they take care of themselves and modify the major modifiable risk factors,” he says. “That’s the bottom line.”
Once you’re being treated for heart disease, knowledge is also crucial. Brush up on these need-to-know heart health terms.
Aneurysm: an abnormal ballooning of a segment of an artery because of weakness in the blood vessel wall
Angina: chest pain
Atherosclerosis: a disease that happens when plaque builds up in your arteries which can restrict blood flow; one form of arteriosclerosis
Arteriosclerosis: “hardening of the arteries”
Arrhythmia: a problem with the rhythm or speed of the heart; sometimes referred to as an “irregular heartbeat”
Atrial fibrillation: the most common type of arrhythmia caused by a problem in the heart’s electrical system
Cardiac arrest: also called “sudden cardiac arrest,” this occurs when an arrhythmia causes the heart to suddenly stop beating
Cardiovascular: related to the heart and blood vessels
Coronary occlusion (or coronary thrombosis): obstruction of a coronary artery that impedes blood flow to some part of the heart and can cause a heart attack
Myocardial infarction: the medical term for a heart attack, this occurs when the blood flow is cut off to part of your heart long enough that part of the muscle is either damaged or dies
Endocarditis: inflammation of the inner lining of the heart or the heart valves
Echocardiogram: a test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart.
Heart failure: a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body; it can affect one or both sides of the heart
Holter monitor: a portable machine that continuously records the heart’s rhythms during a 24-48 hour period of normal activity
Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD): an implantable device that monitors heart rhythms and delivers shocks if the heart rate becomes abnormal and dangerous
Ischemia: a condition when the heart muscle is starved for oxygen and nutrients, and it can lead to a heart attack
Pacemaker: an implantable device that delivers electrical pulses so the heart will beat in a more normal rhythm
Palpitations: the sensation of your heart racing or pounding
Pulmonary hypertension: high blood pressure in the arteries to your lungs
Tachycardia: a heart rate that’s too fast or too high above a normal rate (usually more than 100 beats per minute)
Vasodilator: medication that opens blood vessels
Definitions courtesy of the Plain Language Medical Dictionary, which is part of the Michigan Health Literacy Awareness project, MedlinePlus, and the American Heart Association.